The majority of students in universities fail to realize just how many people struggle with disabilities that affect so many aspects of their daily lives. When it comes to a student's education, learning disabilities are usually what come to mind, but the truth is that disabilities can range from physical, to mental, emotional, and/or psychological impairments. Although it is difficult to attain the exact number of university-level students with disabilities, a recent study in the United States showed that "about nine percent of all undergraduates in higher education report having a disability, a percentage that has tripled in the last two decades." (Clark-McClendon, and Grant) While that may not seem like much of the undergraduate population, it is only fair that a university has resources available to them. The University of California, Riverside, has a department called the Academic Support Center (ASC), which is devoted to helping students with disabilities, so that they can have an equal opportunity in their education as any other student. I think the Academic Support Center is an extremely helpful and important resource for students with temporary and permanent disabilities. Not only does it decrease the restrictions that are imposed by a students' disability, but it provides them an equal opportunity to learn.
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Although the ASC is where most of the services are offered, the first place to go for any student who is looking for the available services is the Services for Students with Disabilities Office (SSD). The SSD staff is there to assist students and explain to them the general information about all the services that the ASC provides, as well as the required paperwork and documentation that is needed in order to be accommodated by the ASC. The reason that the SSD is the first stop is because the staff there are trained professionals, who after a consultation with the student, will determine what academic accommodations will allow the student to access UCR's educational opportunities. All the accommodations are specifically modified to meet each student's disability-related needs. Students are required to fill out the "Student Data Sheet & Request for Accommodations" form, where they must provide information about their disability and the list of accommodations that they are requesting. Along with that, the student must provide the SSD with authorized documentation of their disability which has to be certified by a licensed physician, psychologist, or learning disabilities specialist. Although this is a somewhat long and tedious process, it is extremely important because the disability must be legitimate and the SSD staff must make sure that the information given to them is valid and not something that is made up. Also, even though there is a lot of paperwork required, a positive aspect is that it is usually only a one-time procedure that is typically done a week or two before a student's initial quarter starts.
One of the reasons the ASC is as successful as it has been is due to the experienced staff that are organized and are always there to help with the needs of the students. The staff is made up of the director, Marcia Schiffer, who has her master's in education, Rebecca Aguiar, the ASC Coordinator, and Sharon Kasner, the ASC Assistant, who does the clerical work. They are very helpful with coordinating students' schedules in terms of test-taking, solving any conflicts that may occur between any class times, and setting up appointments with students so that they can discuss anything that is needed for the accommodation for each student. All of their services call for extreme organizational skills because there are a large number of students and the ASC offers many services that need immaculate coordination. In an interview with Sharon Kasner, she tells me that "the academic support centers job is to level the playing field for students and we are not here to put anyone in more of an advantage." When asked if her job was stressful, she said, "it is stressful at peaks, but as long as we stay organized and hold students up to certain deadlines, like handing in forms a week in advance, it is not as hectic." In my opinion, the staff is doing a great job in respecting the needs of the students and providing a comfortable, conducive environment where there is adequate privacy for each student and everything is kept very confidential.
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Many may wonder why the availability of these services is critical to those with disabilities, which is why there have been many laws that apply to students of all ages. The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and section 504 of the 1973 Vocational Rehabilitation Act explain in detail why it is necessary to have such laws to enable the rights of students with disabilities. According to these laws, "University academic accommodations and support services are not intended to remediate, but rather to provide students equal access by reducing the negative impact of their disabilities." ("Student Special Services") The services at university level are available to give students equal access to an education, as well as giving student's access to learn and/or achieve success. Although the ASC provides many services while helping make up for the effects of a students' disability, the university itself does not change any academic requirements to accommodate a student.
The ASC provides a wide range of services depending on the disability type. Test taking accommodations, note-sharing services, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), the use of a computer with adapted software, and sign language interpreters are the most widely used services that the ASC offers. What each student is accommodated with has to do with the type of disability. Learning disabilities, for example, often affect processing information, remembering, reading, and calculating. Examples of accommodations that the ASC provides for student who have specific learning disabilities include, note-sharing, audio taped classes, extra exam times, computer's that read questions, spelling and grammar checkers. Mobility impairments can be the result of many different things including cerebral palsy, scoliosis, spinal cord injury, or amputation of a certain limb. The most common accommodations for students with mobility impairments include tests in electronic formats, a note-taker, or even computers that are equipped with special devices like speech input, an alternative keyboard, or even Morse code. Students with mental disabilities often struggle with psychological disorders such as, major depressive disorder, multiple personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or post traumatic stress disorder. Very often, these disorders affect the daily life of students and interfere with their academic progress, therefore students with these conditions often require note-taking services, a recording of lectures, extended time on assignments and tests, and a non-distracting, quiet setting for assignments and tests.
For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, the use of a relatively new technology called the Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) is available and arranged through the ASC. CART is an instant translation of the spoken word into English text, which is performed by a captionist (the CART reporter), using a stenotype machine, a laptop, and real-time software. The text is displayed on the monitor of the computer or other device for the student. The captionist sits beside the student, during class, and types out the professor's lecture for word, while the student reads it on a laptop computer. For students who prefer sign language interpreters over the CART service, the ASC can arrange that as well, as long as the student gives the staff at least a week's notice.
Through experience and observation of the services provided by the ASC, I believe that most students greatly benefit from what is available to them. Not only are the services up to date with the technology that is out to fit each students needs, but the service is easily accessible as well. The testing rooms are spacious and are set-up to fit a maximum of three students at a time, but it is very rare that more than one student is in there at once. The testing rooms are comfortable and are very conducive to a testing environment as there are rarely ever any distractions.
It may not be easy for some student without disabilities to understand why it is extremely important for the services of the ASC to be available to those who do have disabilities. Since there are many different disabilities, there are many different factors that affect a particular student. The pressure of timed, in-class, tests/exams could present difficulties to some students. The time pressure in a testing situation, for example, differently impacts students with certain learning disabilities and/or students who have a hard time processing information because they often need more time to understand the questions and come up with the answers. Also, to students with sight impairments, pen and paper testing prove to be almost impossible to take. Lastly, writing an essay or marking a scantron on an exam is often not possible for those who are physically disabled. For example, students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have difficulty sustaining attention in certain tasks and often fail to finish schoolwork. Although one may think that this is due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand material, it is not. Therefore, extended time during tests and extended deadlines for certain assignments would only be fair to them.
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It is evident that the ASC is very beneficial to many students, professors, as well as the community and world in general. We all know and recognize that people with disabilities and handicaps need to further their education as much as possible and the ASC makes that possible. This makes more opportunities for people with disabilities to get better jobs out in the "real world."